Adam Laxalt has been flying into headwinds from the time he announced his campaign for attorney general, so it was fitting that a blizzard hit central Nevada on the December day when he drove north to take office as the state’s top lawman.
That final obstacle capped an odyssey that included a fundraising disadvantage, the leak of unflattering job review notes and a formidable opponent: two-term Secretary of State Ross Miller.
The odds seemed so long that “a lot of us had doubts,” Laxalt campaign consultant Robert Uithoven said. “He was the one guy who never had a doubt that he could win.”
The 36-year-old former Navy JAG has assumed his role as the state’s top law enforcement officer with characteristic self-assurance.
“If my race will signal one thing, it’s to encourage the new generation to take these shots and to run, if their motivation is” the public good, Laxalt said. “They shouldn’t take this ‘wait, it’s not your turn’ approach. We need leadership today, not in a decade.”
In one of his first big moves, Laxalt signed Nevada on to a major multi-state lawsuit challenging a presidential order that would spare millions of immigrants from deportation.
It angered activists, who delivered a symbolic deportation order to his Las Vegas office and demanded he reverse the decision, and created friction with Gov. Brian Sandoval, a fellow Republican who has struck a more moderate tone on immigration and didn’t agree to joining the lawsuit.
Laxalt has not backed down. The move aligns with one of his major goals: fighting federal overreach wherever he sees it.
“It’s important for the attorney general’s office to look for as many opportunities to defend the state against intrusion in issues that are more the province of the state,” he told The Associated Press in a January interview.
Laxalt burst on the political scene as a relative unknown. His push for attorney general was his first campaign for any office.
But he carried significant name recognition as the grandson of former Nevada governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, who was close enough with President Ronald Reagan that he was called “the first friend.”
The newly installed attorney general said he never aspired to public office growing up, even though he grew up near Washington, D.C., and was the son of lobbyist and political commentator Michelle Laxalt.
Nevada gaming commissioner Joe Brown, a family friend, described the young Laxalt as a sports-loving, hard-partying “hellion” who “suddenly saw the light” at age 19.
Laxalt attributes the turnaround to his Catholic faith, which he describes as “a huge part of my life.”
“I wouldn’t be here today without that,” he said. “I wouldn’t have maintained my sobriety without my faith and my commitment to my church.”
During his time in the Navy, he served as a legal specialist and was deployed to Iraq. He was teaching at the Naval Academy when he met his wife, Jaime, who was working for the Department of Defense.
They married, returned to Nevada in 2011 and had a daughter, Sophia. Laxalt was working in relative anonymity as a private lawyer when he decided to run for office.
“Most people were discouraging us, saying wait your turn,” Uithoven said. “The more Adam heard that advice, the more it drove him to run.”
Laxalt was called presumptuous and criticized as riding his grandfather’s coattails, and a few months into the campaign, internal job review notes describing him as “a train wreck” were leaked.
Campaign staffers were rattled, but Laxalt jumped into action, digging up positive reviews from other jobs in a near-immediate counterstrike.
“You could see a lot of military in him and a lot of fight from him,” Uithoven said.
In the end, after the most expensive attorney general race in state history, Laxalt won Nevada by fewer than 5,000 votes.
Aside from stoking the immigration fight, Laxalt’s last three months have involved on-the-job training as head of a 400-person department and convening a law enforcement summit that drew sheriffs and district attorneys from all 17 Nevada counties.
He says he’s not taking things lightly: “People have entrusted me with this office. We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to serve the people and — God willing — do a great job.”